Monday, March 26, 2012

The Boomerang Effect
a new play by Matthew Leavitt
Directed by Damaso Rodriguez


Photo by Ed Krieger
"The Boomerang Effect" a new play by Matthew Leavitt, is a very cynical comedy, and it tries to hide it with unending, fast paced banter and a punchline at the end of every scene. It's a montage of bedroom scenarios that all take place in the same bedroom, two actors at a time. Each scene has a dot that's connected to the next scene through the mention of a character (If you say you have a Father, then he is one of the two in the next scene, and so on...) You go forward through 5 of these, then reverse order back to the first one to see how each story is tied up. That's the layout.

It is the type of show that people who like seeing the world through the veneer of a sitcom will enjoy. I don't watch many sitcoms, especially 3 camera sitcoms, and I don't enjoy that level of artificiality on stage (unless you're making a point about it); I kept expecting to see chords and PAs running around the set while the actors worked their asses off for laughs. The director, Damaso Rodriguez, feels like he spent weeks studying episodes of "Will and Grace" because each character panders to one of the overused sitcom archetypes: the man child afraid to grow up, the nagging girlfriend, the bitchy over achieving worker, the prick boss, etc and none of the scenes really take the time to develop the character beyond those limitations. I've seen some of these actors in other shows around the city and on television and I've enjoyed and liked their performances in the past, and at times over this hour and a half run, their delivery of quips gave a momentary reprieve from the barrage of emptiness that filled each situation. No, the faults with this show lie on the backs of the writer and director .

Where was I...ah, yes, it's cynical. As with most sitcoms, the reality with which each situation is handled and the repercussions that come with choices the characters make are swept tidily into the shadows of cupboards and sock drawers by the end of the half hour, so the audience members can feel safe laughing at the contrived situations and go to bed thinking that their life isn't so complicated. The reason why this tends to work with sitcoms is because we see the show every week, we know who these characters are, we've invited them into our household and can be forgiving of their faults. Here however, we're introduced to some very unlikeable characters, and we're given no reason to connect. It is cynical, because it passes these unlikeable, sometimes detestable people off with such cute passivity, as if the audience will laugh because they somehow relate. And when we could relate, any real human emotion or reaction is treated like a punchline or contrivance to keep someone in the room a little longer to get to the punchline. Do they really think we're that gullible? It only ever feels artificial. It's the type of show in which a woman after having sex covers herself up with a pillow even when the guy is asleep, and when the title of the show is brought up not once, but twice in two different heartfelt moments. I digress...

We're introduced to the first two characters, and they are immediately at each others throats, bickering. For ten minutes we listen to them argue. First, you do not develop characters through arguing. Second, you do not build drama through arguing. Third, arguing does not make for great comedy. Fourth, each character should have their own voice. That doesn't mean different opinions, it means that each should speak differently; have their own rhythms, their own vocabulary.  The entire show each character speaks exactly like the person that spoke before them, and the director has the actors roll through each line of dialogue at the same volume and speed as the last one. Fifth, if you start at 10, you have no place to go! How much fun can an actor have with that? I found it mind numbing. Then the second scenario starts and the new couple is arguing about the same thing we just finished hearing the first couple argue about. So, why not combine the first and second scenes?

There were a lot of members in the audience that enjoyed this and no doubt there will continue to be; the critic and the audience member must part ways here, but I'm sure we can agree this show will be liked mainly due to the talented actors committing one hundred percent. Each performer deserves applause for fighting to give a shred of humanity to each moment, despite the uninspired direction, and it's a pleasant moment when they are able to. It's too bad the work of the playwright didn't match up and the director pandered with sitcom safety.

An extra bravo to the scenic (John Iacovelli) and lighting (Jared A. Sayeg) designers. It felt like we were looking into a real bedroom, working sinks and all.

"The Boomerang Effect" an original play by Matthew Leavitt. Directed by Damaso Rodriguez. March 24-April 29, 2012. Thurs-Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm.

At The Odyssey Theatre 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets $20-$30. http://www.odysseytheatre.com/box.htm or (310)-477-2055

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